The Dawson County Tigers faced off against the North Hall High School Trojans in the final game of the regular season at Tiger Stadium on Friday, Nov. 2 in what was expected to be a high-scoring affair.
Instead, fans of both teams were treated to an intense defensive struggle that resulted in the Tigers' only overtime game of the season, from which they emerged victorious with a 17–10 win over the Trojans.
“Nothing went like we expected,” said Defensive Coordinator Brent Cox. “Their coaches had them well prepared.”
From the first drive it was apparent that the Trojans had come to play. Led by seniors Daniel Jackson and David Seavy, North Hall drove the length of the field on their opening possession and appeared to put the game’s first touchdown on the board. Fortunately for the Tigers, an offensive penalty took the early points off the board, and the defense forced a turnover on downs to end the threat.
After an exchange of possessions that saw both teams go three-and-out, the Tigers took control of the game with a lengthy drive of their own that chewed up the remainder of the first quarter and ended with senior running back Ahmad Kamara blasting through the middle and outrunning the field for a 20-yard touchdown that proved to be the only score in the first half.
Both team’s defenses stood strong in the second quarter as neither offensive unit was able to muster as much as a first down and the score at half-time remained 7–0 in favor of the Tigers.
“It’s a tough game. Right now we are just trying to keep them from scoring,” said Head Coach Sid Maxwell at halftime. “Let’s see how the next 24 minutes go.”
For 10 of those minutes the Tigers did, in fact, hold the Trojans scoreless until North Hall sophomore running back JT Fair broke around the outside and rumbled 54 yards, taking the ball to the Tigers 18 yard line where he was finally tracked down by Caleb Bell to prevent the touchdown.
“That was a game-saving tackle for sure,” said Cox. “Without that tackle I am not sure we would have been able to come back from that.”
Two plays later the Trojans stood on the brink of a touchdown when Kamara, blitzing from his linebacker position, dropped Fair for a three-yard loss to end the drive with only a field goal and preserve the Tigers lead at 7–3 going into to the fourth quarter.
The teams traded three-and-outs once again to start the fourth quarter, and then the tenor of the game changed completely as North Hall finally managed to open up their passing game and drove down the field to take the lead on a beautiful 20-yard pass and catch with just over four minutes remaining in the game.
Taking possession on their own 21, the Tigers offense ran into a re-energized Trojans defense that brought intense backfield pressure forcing Tigers into a punting situation that put the game in the hands of the Dawson County defense.
With seniors Zac Baloga and Logan Barnes leading the charge, the defense responded to the challenge with a smothering series that resulted in negative yardage for the Trojans. As North Hall lined up to punt and Tigers sophomore Dakohta Sonnichsen stood back to receive the kick, the stadium erupted with noise as both fan bases knew, with only a minute and a half remaining, that this was the one last chance for either team.
Sonnichsen fielded the punt off a bounce around his 20 yard line and demonstrated his speed, agility and determination as he weaved his way through Trojans and broke tackles for a 52-yard return that flipped the field and gave the Tigers the ball on the North Hall 18 yard line with just over a minute remaining on the clock.
Sensing victory slipping from their grasp, the Trojans defense came out strong and, once again, stopped the Tigers in three plays to set up a game tying 22-yard field goal by Caleb Bonesteel that sent the Tigers into overtime for the first time this season.
The Tigers won the overtime coin toss and took possession of the ball on the 15 yard line to begin the free period. After an inside run attempt by Kamara that was stopped cold, senior quarterback Vaughn Clark settled into the pocket and dropped a dime to tight-end TJ Wilson as he broke free across the middle for a touchdown to give the Tigers a 17–10 lead and put all the pressure back on North Hall.
The Trojans responded rapidly as they handed the ball to Fair who broke around the corner and cut inside the pylon for a 15-yard touchdown only to, reminiscent of the first period, see the score erased by a holding call along the line.
On the second play of their overtime the Trojans went with some trickeration in the form of a half-back pass from Fair to Jackson. Not fooled in the slightest, senior corner back Noah Brock smoothly stepped in front of the ball for the interception and sealed the Tigers’ overtime win by a final score of 17–10.
“It was a heartbreaking loss and one we will take with us when we travel to Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe,” said North Hall Head Coach David Bishop. “I am sure the team will use this as motivation during the week of practice.”
With the win the Tigers finished the regular season as the region 7-AAA runners-up and setting a school record for regular season wins with their 9–1 record on the year.
The team also secured home field advantage for the first round of the GHSA state playoffs that take place Nov. 9 when the Haralson County Rebels, No. 3 from region 6-AAA, will come to town to face the Dawson County Tigers.